A love letter to the Shimano SPD sandal

Where's the love for the virtues of the open-toed life?

The Shimano SPD sandal is an underappreciated style icon of the cycling world.

Year after year, they appear in the Shimano catalogue, largely unchanged since they were first introduced approximately one zillion years ago.

Imagine how cool you'll look and feel in these bad boys
Imagine how cool you'll look and feel in these bad boys

Beloved by Carradice-toting touring types and seemingly every other Northern European cycle tourist, lovers of the SPD sandal delight in telling you how they are the pinnacle of cycling footwear design — unlimited airflow, unrivalled comfort and dodgy tan lines are among the many supposed virtues of the open-toed life.

Run them with flats or cleats, the choice is yours
Run them with flats or cleats, the choice is yours

However, there are just as many haters gunning to tell you how just goofy they look.

The sandals go great with any bike or outfit
The sandals go great with any bike or outfit

These criticisms are not without merit — the SPD sandal has a kind of naff normcore-dad-on-holiday aesthetic that I think is thus far unmatched in the cycling world. An admirable feat in a sport where silly clothing is pretty much a prerequisite.  

It's pretty much mandatory that you model the sandals with socks
It's pretty much mandatory that you model the sandals with socks

There are also practical issues that come with wearing open-toed footwear on a bike: inclement weather, muddy terrain, and the odd errant bee that may want to lodge itself between your foot and the insole of the sandal are the main concerns for the sandal-toting cyclist.

If you think it's okay to wear overshoes with sandals, you need to have a word with yourself
If you think it's okay to wear overshoes with sandals, you need to have a word with yourself

Those that try to justify wearing socks with the sandals as a way to get around these issues should get away with a light telling off, but I draw the line at the true degenerates who insist that wearing them with overshoes is in any way normal.

Still, sandal-superfans hold steadfast, and it’s this dogged passion and Shimano’s willingness to cater for this segment of the market that grants the lowly SPD sandal a place in my heart.

The sandals are also parkour compatible
The sandals are also parkour compatible

I admit that this is not a widely shared sentiment, but like those who are quick to dismiss e-bikes, maybe we’ve been wrong all along? Maybe my life would be better lived with SPD sandals?

Here at BikeRadar, we’re certainly not afraid to challenge dogma in the name of making cycling journalism great again — last year, for example, my colleague Matthew Allen boldly swapped his drop bars for wide flat bars on his fixie (the horror!) and found his riding was much better for it.

They're perfect for the active urbanite
They're perfect for the active urbanite

Sadly, we’ll never know if sandals are the ultimate cycling footwear as I have absolutely no intention of being caught dead or alive wearing these damn sandals outside the confines of our car park.

I only have admiration for those bold enough to rock these puppies
I only have admiration for those bold enough to rock these puppies

But my message to Shimano and those bold enough to rock these bad boys is this: keep doing you and ignore the haters, maybe you’ll be laughing when we’re all proved wrong.

So are SPD sandals the next big thing?

In recent years, we’ve seen a marked pushback against the go-fast mentality of cycling in the rise of bikepacking, adventure and gravel riding.

You’re pretty much guaranteed to live your life at a slower pace in sandals, so I wouldn’t be surprised if someone claims they’re the next must-have accessory for a more wholesome life on a bike.

Ridiculous as that may sound, signs of change are a(bare)foot — beloved B-list Instagram cycle-touring celeb-influencer Ultraromance has done the seemingly impossible in raising Bedrock Sandals to a status of coolness in certain circles. Stranger things!

These are basically the SPD sandals of the future
These are basically the SPD sandals of the future

The influence of the SPD sandal can also clearly be seen in Mavic’s skeletal €1,000 Comete Ultimate shoes. Perhaps with the obvious weight savings to be had, 2018 will go the other way and be the year of the performance cycling sandal?

What about the other SPD-compatible sandals?

When researching this article I was surprised (horrified?) to discover that there are a number of SPD-compatible sandals on the market. Further research revealed that someone has even converted Birkenstocks into SPD-compatible kicks!

Such is the seeming demand for open-toed cycling footwear that CyclingAbout.com (an excellent resource for budding cycle tourers) has gone as far as writing a buyer’s guide for them.

Where can I buy these beautiful sandals?

If you want to get into the sandal-toting life you can buy the Shimano SD5 sandals pictured from Evans Cycles. If you really want to complete that look, the jazzy socks come courtesy of Stance and the more austere waterproof stockings are from Bridgedale.

What do you think of Shimano’s SPD sandals? Are you a fan or a hater? I’m sure you’ll let me know in the comments.

Jack Luke

Staff Writer, UK
Jack has been riding and fettling with bikes for his whole life. Always in search of the hippest new niche in cycling, Jack is a self-confessed gravel dork and thinks nothing of bivouacking on a beach after work. Also fond of cup and cone bearings, skids and tan wall tyres.
  • Discipline: Long days in the saddle by either road or mountain bike
  • Preferred Terrain: Happiest when on a rural road by the coast or crossing a remote mountain pass. Also partial to a cheeky gravel adventure or an arduous hike-a-bike.
  • Current Bikes: Custom Genesis Croix de Fer all road adventure wagon, Niner EMD 9.
  • Dream Bike: A rigid 44 Bikes Marauder, all black please.
  • Beer of Choice: Caesar Augustus
  • Location: Bristol, UK

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